The spirits industry (bourbon in particular) has been seeing a lot of firsts recently. For example, it was only a decade ago that a Las Vegas distillery was first established. Enter Nevada H&C Distilling Company, founded by Aaron Chepenik and Jonathan Hensleigh. Their backstory comes from trying a host of bourbons and vodkas at The Griffin, a bar they opened beforehand. After narrowing down what they liked (and disliked) about both spirits, they decided to enter the distilling business, ultimately resulting in the now-popular Smoke Wagon brand.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Smoke Wagon (and Silver Dollar vodka) is the bottle design. On top of using amber glass to stand out, the Nevada state flower (desert sage) is depicted on each bottle, along with a pair of 1873 Colts imprinted on a silver dollar-style emblem. A small variety of Smoke Wagon bottlings are sourced (from Ross & Squibb) and batched by Aaron and Jonathan, but the crown jewel in the lineup is undoubtedly the Uncut Unfiltered bourbon. Per the name, it’s cask strength bourbon that forgoes the chill filtration step. Retail pricing seems to hover around the $70-$80 range. Smoke Wagon isn’t distributed to my state, but I was able to obtain a sample of batch 45.
Nose: Brief, immediate red fruit just as quickly followed by a caramel-rickhouse aroma. Sweet, toasted biscuits. Rich caramel corn with the faintest undercurrent of lychee and mint.
Palate: Moderately thick viscosity. Golden fruit syrup (almost apple juice-like), butterscotch, and caramel corn. Honeyed biscuits with a little dark brown sugar for good measure.
Finish: Just a touch short and uneventful. Slightly overcooked buttermilk pancakes on cast iron. Lighter brown sugars and soft vanilla both mask and complement the lingering corn flavor.
The word “balance” can often be code for “boring” in certain circles. Bourbon is no exception. Yet there’s also something to be said for a product that can achieve balance while containing enough personality to maintain some combination of interest and enjoyment. Smoke Wagon Uncut Unfiltered Batch 45 nails the latter. This bourbon feels fine-tuned to deliver an experience that’s just as easy to simply enjoy as it is to sit down and appreciate. Just about everything a bourbon drinker might want in a competent barrel proof pour is present here. I’d say this is intended for the bourbon consumer who wants as few curveballs in their moderately high proof pour as possible.
Does this translate to a bottle that justifies its common price point? Debatably. Between the stylish bottle and on-point profile, it’s easy to see why Smoke Wagon appeals to many. Some of my favorite bottles strike a fine balance between letting both the grain and casks shine. Although I get strong corn notes from this batch, they feel properly implemented. By comparison, other products often present their corn profile in an obtuse or otherwise distracting manner. I wouldn’t go out of my way to purchase a bottle ($100 to order online is out of the question) when other, similarly competent bottles occupy shelf space for around the same price. However, if I were traveling on vacation and stumbled upon a bottle for around $70, I’d probably go with the flow and splurge.